The title of this post is probably not a huge surprise to anyone. Health care in general lags behind not only the research but the needs of the person seeking help. More and more healthcare providers are recognizing the importance of a holistic approach, but even those who wish they could spend more time treating the person, not just the patient, are overwhelmed with the bare minimum requirements of the job.
With cancer care, this is a particularly serious issue. Findings by the Institute of Medicine show that far too many oncologists and other providers involved in treating cancer are not providing the best care, even when they are doing their best.
Part of the problem is actually a positive development: cancer research is moving forward rapidly, with new discoveries happening apace. Finding time to not only keep up with this research but translate it into practice is difficult for far too many doctors.
For example, the advances in genetics research show that the same type of cancer can be very different from person to person, including how a person will respond to particular treatments. Yet many people with cancer do not know this and are not tested to determine which treatment has the best chance of working.
This is, of course, on top of the ongoing problem of healthcare providers not giving patients all the information they need to make informed decisions.
The Institute of Medicine makes several recommendations for improvements from the healthcare side of things, but most of us can’t afford to wait on this notoriously slow system to change. We have to take our health into our own hands.
Cancer specialist Dr. Patricia Ganz recommends starting with these questions of your doctors if you are receiving care for cancer or are about to start:
—How long does the average person with this cancer live?
—What is my likelihood of a cure?
—If I can’t be cured, will I live longer with treatment? How much longer?
—Will this care directly treat the cancer, or improve my symptoms, or both?
—What are the side effects?
—Am I healthy enough to try this treatment, or will my other health conditions and medications interfere?
—How many times have you done this procedure?
—What does the care cost?
—Am I eligible for clinical trials?
If you don’t get clear answers, seek a second opinion . . . or third, or fourth, until you are satisfied. This is good practice with any healthcare issue, of course, but when we’re most vulnerable can be the most difficult time to be assertive. Bring your questions in writing or bring someone to advocate for you.
I’ve talked before about 50+ women and men having the most disposable income of any other demographic, making our age group the crucial consumer in the marketplace. The same is true with our health care. The more we speak up and change the way we expect to be treated, the more we can mobilize a change in how we are treated.
Karen Sands, MCC, BCC Phone
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